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ReCode Portland: Crucial Changes for Our City's Future

ReCode Portland.  Sexy – No!  Important – Hell Yes!

In my capacity as Realtor®, builder, developer, landlord, member of MEREDA presentation committee, founder of YIMBY Portland, chair of 2019 Priced Out of Portland Forum and student of national best practices in zoning, land-use and development, I enjoy a uniquely informed position on ‘housing’ and the challenges and responsibilities of Maine’s largest city. The information and recommendations here are my own but were the result of collaboration with industry experts. Want to know more about Portland’s housing potential? Contact me at (207) 775-0248, tomlandry@benchmarkmaine.com or follow me at www.homewithtomlandry.com.

 

ReCode Portland is an incredibly consequential body of work for all current and potential Portland and Greater Portland residents. Land use might not sound sexy, or even interesting, but it is the very underpinning of our community.

Questions & Consequences. Will we have enough housing of all types to support all income levels? Will local businesses have locations to set up shop, expand, and grow? Will more of us be able to open our doors and walk to the salons, shops, bars, breweries, boutiques, and the parks and playgrounds we love? Will we as Maine’s largest city, allow for more density and height and embrace our responsibility to protect our farms and fields from suburban sprawl? How we answer these questions (right now and part of ReCode) will determine our future and that of the state. The time is now!

More Is Needed. I commend and congratulate current and past city staff including Nell Donaldson, Kevin Kraft, Christine Grimando, and Jeff Levine on their work. However, we need to be much more ambitious. Right now, in this summer of recode, the ball is in our court, yours and mine as residents of this city. The city wants to hear from you this summer, and I encourage you to learn more and let your voice be heard. Change is hard. But change is needed in both policy and community mindset.  The primary way to address both the housing crisis and protect our rural lands is to build more in urban areas.

Let your voice be heard. This is the time to jump in, learn more, and speak up. The city released its map of proposed zoning changes and is asking for public input this summer before it sends its proposal to the planning board and on to the City Council in the fall.

Email Planning: recodeportland@portlandmaine.gov

More Information:

 

Below is what I’ve shared with the city’s planning staff. I encourage you to dive into ReCode for yourself, borrow any of the ideas below, and please let your voice be heard.

__________

Dear Team ReCode,

Thank you for your efforts to improve our city through simplification and improvements to zoning. The current proposal is a terrific start and meets the moment in many ways. That said, I don’t believe the proposed changes are enough to provide Portland with enough housing and commercial space to meet current and future needs. It also falls short in its response to suburban sprawl and ultimately climate change. 

More height and density should be allowed along all major corridors and in neighborhood centers. Adding it only in a small area of the peninsula isn’t enough. I suggest we:

  •  Convert all current B1-B4 zones to a new B5B zone that allows for current B5 uses but boosts allowable height to 80’ with 10’ of allowable appurtenance, think green roofs for residents, solar panels, and more. This simplifies an overly complex patchwork and allows for more height in existing commercial areas. This can relieve the pressure to add large-scale housing developments in our residential zones. Even in the proposed ReCode, sections of streets, very similar in nature, have a piecemeal of allowable uses. For example, inner Washington Ave between Congress and I-295 has four different B zones and a sliver of residential. This should all be B5B with an additional height bonus as urban areas like this are where we want to encourage and incentivize development.
  •  Along specific sections of our most traveled corridors and neighborhood nodes/centers where infrastructure and public transportation exist, establish Prosperity Overlays. The city wants to create complete neighborhoods where residents can walk to all they need for daily life. For centuries this is how we lived, before the advent of the automobile and subsequent suburban sprawl. Numerous public policy research shows that complete neighborhoods are good for local businesses, public health, and the environment. The current and proposed B zones and most of the peninsula are the areas where we want to encourage and streamline development. While ReCode does include some, these areas need to be expanded, the allowable heights increased, density improved, and the process for permitting streamlined. I would refer to these areas as B5BPO with all the allowable uses of the B5B above and additionally, bonuses of 100’ with 10’ overrides on roofs.

Streets to include

  • Forest Ave – from Congress to Warren Ave
  • Washington Ave – from Congress to Veranda and Northport Drive to Allen Ave
  • Congress St – from Munjoy Street to the city limits
  • Veranda St – from Baxter Boulevard to the city limits
  • Presumpscot St – in its entirety

Areas / Neighborhood Centers / Nodes

  • ILB Zones – on the peninsula (a large portion of East Bayside)
  • Approximately 400’ along any major road of the following intersections:
    • Woodfords Corner, Morrill’s Corner, Bradley’s Corner, Lunt’s Corner, Brighton Corner, and Nason’s Corner
    • Note – many of these areas are historic districts giving them additional protections. So, existing buildings in these historic areas would be protected, like most of Congress Street.

Edit the IL (industrial light), IM, IMB, and IH zones to IL/B5. By some estimates, as much as 90% of Portland’s landmass and 70% of the peninsula isn’t zoned for multi-family or mixed use. Did you know that areas like East Bayside (think the location of Coffee By Design Diamond St, Cycle Mania, and many others) are mostly zoned IL and don’t allow for residential uses. Yes, the proposed ReCode complies with LD2003 and the state mandate to allow for three residential units creating the proposed RN2 zone. But this won’t move the needle. My proposal opens vast tracks of vacant and underutilized land that lays in fallow waiting for industrial users that may never come. Beyond this, the idea that we must keep commercial/light industry away from residential areas is antiquated. This separation was valid, justified, and prudent 50-100 years ago, but not in this time of quieter and cleaner industry. Besides, we are not in a warehouse/industrial space crisis. We are in a housing crisis. So, let's open these tracks to development.

Simplify & Streamline Permitting - from Historic and Planning Board approvals to permit in hand, this process needs work.

Establish Preapproved Development Types that bypass the time suck of public meetings, both historic and planning review, and are permitted swiftly post planning staff input.

Release more city land for development. Did you realize the city has not one but two golf courses? Are we in a golfing crisis? No! Let’s put both up for RFP (request for proposal) and establish a new community in this area with parks, playgrounds, trails, river access, housing, retail space, and more.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments and for your tireless work.

Tom Landry

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